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Go get a shot of Grouse

In 1896, Matthew Gloag & Son (originally founded in 1800) introduced a blended Scotch simply named “The Grouse.” After many decades of covey rises, it became known as Famous Grouse and became a favorite tipple of the happy hunter. The brand is steeped in tradition. The label that sports the bottle is derived from an original drawing made by the great-aunt of the founder.

The Famous Grouse is Scotland’s bestselling blended whisky. The Edrington Group, whose portfolio includes two world-famous malt distilleries — The Macallan and Highland Park — has owned The Famous Grouse since 1999.

Edrington not only takes whisky seriously, but best hunting practices, too. In 2007 the company launched a special Grouse whisky to support the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) in raising money to protect the near-extinct black grouse, cousin of the ubiquitous red grouse. After a while, Edrington raised over 600,000 pounds by donating 50p from every bottle of Black Grouse Whisky sold. The Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust in Scotland acted as partner with RSPB in the Biodiversity Action Plan that was developed, with great results: The black grouse population is growing again. The work includes a beautiful initiative to maintain the grouse moors, of which hunting and enjoying the occasional dram of whisky are integral and necessary parts.

Throughout the grouse-hunting season, hunters from all over the world head for the moors of Scotland and northern England. The grouse are wild and not artificially reared. Most grouse shooting takes place in a formal setting, with birds being driven over the shooters. The guns are placed in butts (a hide for shooting screened by a turf or stone wall) and beaters drive the birds towards them. There is a strict code of conduct governing behavior on the grouse moor for both safety and etiquette. Grouse shooting can also be undertaken by walking up grouse over pointers, or by flushing the birds with other dogs.

Hunting with dogs is a traditional sport that was largely supplanted by formal driven shooting in the mid-to-late 1800s, but which is seeing a resurgence in popularity, though driven grouse shooting is the only commercially viable means of running a grouse moor.

Red grouse are only found in the British Isles. They rely on young heather as a food source (eating a little over a tenth of a pound a day). They are not reared or released by gamekeepers but grow up in their natural environment on the moors. Grouse are a short-lived species, with two out of three dying within one year of hatching, regardless of shooting. Best of all: Grouse are challenging on the wing and give hunters everything a wild bird should be. Game birds such as grouse provide a healthy, fresh and natural source of food. The birds will all be eaten once harvested, having been sold through a game dealer or butcher. Grouse is high in protein, low in fat and free from artificial additives.

There are 459 grouse moors in the United Kingdom, covering 1,500,000 hectares. Grouse shooting takes place on moorland as far south as Wales and Derbyshire and as far north as the Highlands of Scotland. Moors vary in size from 200 hectares to nearly 10,000 hectares with an average size of 2,000 hectares. Grouse densities of more than 60 birds per square kilometer are necessary if moorland is to be economically viable for driven shooting. To protect grouse numbers and other moorland birds, predators such as foxes, crows and stoats are controlled by gamekeepers.

A wee dram heightens the experience of the hunt, as founder Matthew Gloag expressed so well in 1896:

“Scotsmen the world over use it, neat to warm them when cold, diluted to refresh them when warm, to revive them when exhausted, as a medicine in sickness, as an aid to digestion, as a sedative for sleeplessness, and, universally to celebrate the meeting with, or parting with, friends, confident that, used in moderation, it will suit the occasion as nothing else will do, and with nothing but good effect.

“Millions of men in every clime, have found that these Scotsmen are right."

We couldn’t have said it better. Have a shot of this feathery threesome!

Slainte mhath,

The Whisky Couple

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